Okinawa fishermen express concerns about tests for new air station
NAHA, Okinawa — About a dozen fishermen from Henoko’s neighboring communities on Wednesday traveled to the Defense Facilities Administration Agency’s Naha bureau to voice concerns over an ongoing environmental survey for a new Marine Corps air station.
They say the seabed tests, which involve drilling into coral, could damage their fertile fishing grounds.
Takashi Minei, president of the Ishikawa Fisheries Cooperative Association, which represents fisherman associations in Kin, Ginoza, Ishikawa and Kunigami, demanded that bureau officials give them detailed explanations of the testing procedures.
“No prior notice was given to us before the survey platforms were set up,” said Minei, reading a statement at the opening of the hurriedly arranged meeting.
He said none of the members of the four fisheries associations had a clear idea of what was going on near their fishing grounds.
In 1996, the United States and Japan agreed to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which sits in the center of heavily populated Ginowan City, but only after operations were moved elsewhere on Okinawa. A relocation site was chosen about two miles offshore of Henoko, adjacent to Camp Schwab.
Local residents, environmentalists and anti-military activists have staged protest campaigns since, including a sit-in at the Henoko fishing port.
After the project entered an environmental survey phase in November, protesters have surrounded survey platforms with small boats and tried to climb them in an effort to stall the drilling. Several shoving incidents have occurred between the protesters and the workers, which prompted the Japanese coast guard to warn both sides to avoid violence.
“Meanwhile,” Minei said, “requests are coming to individual association members from the protest group to join them in the protest campaign,” he said. “Our members are becoming anxious about the activities out there. We, the association, owe them a good explanation.”
Two senior officials of the DFAA Naha Bureau gave the fishermen’s group a briefing during the one-hour closed-door meeting, using drawings and specifications for the air station project.
“We are appropriately proceeding with the procedures in accordance with the Environmental Assessment Act,” the bureau told the fishermen, according to a statement released to the media.
“We believe that [the impact] the facility would have on the surrounding environment will be made known as we carry out the procedures of the environmental assessment,” the statement said.
Following the meeting, Minei told reporters that he and his fellow fishermen weren’t satisfied with the bureau’s explanation.
“It was full of jargon,” and the meaning was hard to grasp, he said. “I wanted them to answer our question; what impact would the new airport have on the surrounding waters? But they dodged our question.”
He said the fishermen’s group has given the bureau until the end of the month to answer their questions. “If they do not reply to our questions in writing by the end of December, we will take action,” he said.
“We will launch our protest campaign using our fishing boats, separately from the protest group,” he said.
Minei said one of their biggest concerns is Mozuku seaweed farming at Katabaru, less than half a mile away from the site where the new air station is to be built.
Nori Nakasone, president of the Ginoza Fisheries Cooperative Association, said the annual gross sales of the seaweed is about 100 million yen (about $960,000).
He also said about 300 fishermen belong to the four fisheries associations, with jobs ranging from cultivating the seaweed to gillnet fishing to skin-diving fishing.
“Once the coral in our fishing grounds are damaged, fish will no longer come,” he said.